February 2, 2009
`Fountains Abbey: The Story Of A Mediaeval Monastery` (1904) is an illustrated history and description of day to day life at Fountains Abbey in York England. It is the largest and best preserved Cistercian monastery in England, although in ruins since the "Dissolution of Monasteries" in the 1530's. The Abbey's history mirrors closely that of English monasticism, and medieval history in general. Although I've read a lot about monasticism in high-level history surveys, the story of a single place is enlightening. There are a number of books about Fountains, this one by an American theologian in 1904 has a romantic flair that sparks the imagination. There is an evocative full color pull out map in the back which is helpful to follow along as the book acts a tour guide through the stone vaulted galleys and passages, underground prisons, rivers that run through tunnels under buildings, twisty foot-worn stone passages, huge chambers. Fountains Abbey is a ruin today, but protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so despite old Henry's dissolution, it should last a long time, no doubt to the delight of the faithful souls who once inhabited its walls.
For more pictures and maps see also (on Internet Archive) `The Ruins of Fountains Abbey` (1910) which also contains the original 13th century document describing the Abbey's founding, a curious and fascinating read in its own right. Beyond reading, check out the Abbey's website (Google: Fountains Abbey) and look for the "Audio tour" which is about a 45 minute tour of the Abbey as a new monk who is thinking of joining. It's the same audio tour used on-site for visitors and well done.
[STB Jan 2009 218]